A curriculum (plural: curricula) is a program of study. It is used to plan teaching or training. It spells out the details so others can know what is going to happen:
- what topics will be taught
- in which order they will be taught
- often, how much time will be spent on each topic
- it is often linked to a timetable, and other details of an organisation where it will take place
- it is often authorised by a public or private examination board, and used as the basis for setting exams
Today it usually means the courses, their content, and the coursework offered at a school or university. Often, curricula are backed by some kind of theory, or by intending to change what was done before. Curricula may be backed by textbooks and by courses to train teachers. The study of curricula is part of most qualifications for teachers.
A similar word is syllabus, which means a summary of topics which will be covered during an academic course, or book or lecture. Another term is discipline, which in this sense means an academic subject-matter.
Historically, curricula have done more than act as a background for syllabi and examinations. They have discussed the basis of teaching by taking account of:
- the psychology of children, especially younger children.
- the needs of society, including the needs of employers.
- the growth in knowledge, for example in science
- the balance between education and training
- the legal status of the education, for example whether the education is voluntary or mandatory
The four questions asked by Tylor in his introductory text are generally regarded as fundamental:
- What educational purposes should the school seek to attain? 
- How can learning experiences be selected which are useful in attaining these objectives? 
- How can learning experiences be organized for effective instruction?
- How can the effectiveness of learning experiences be evaluated?
There are no hard-and-fast rules for answering those questions. There have always been different theories of education which are based on different attitudes to education and to life itself. Roughly speaking, these theories have two opposite ends. At one end is child-centered education. This is concerned to adapt the teaching to the needs and development of individual children, and is most used in kindergarten and primary education. The other end is society-oriented. It aims to make sure society gets a steady supply of young adults able to fill the jobs and roles which society needs to be filled. In some countries the approach would be more religion-oriented. This would aim to produce young adults whose main aim is to live according to the precepts (beliefs, practices) of a particular religion.
A term sometimes used to describe what a critic thinks is really going on in an educational system. It means the unspoken beliefs and values of an institution, the implicit demands of behavour and respect. In a school subject-matter is taught, but much else is going on.
- Shipman M.D; Bolam D.W. & Jenkins D.R 1974. Inside a curriculum project: a case study in the process of curriculum change. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-416-78040-7
- Pressey, Sidney L. 1933. Psychology and the new education. New York: Harper & Brothers.
- Bobbitt, John Franklin. 1918. The curriculum. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Tyler R.W. 1950. Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226086507 (2013 reprint)
- Dewey, John 1959. Dewey on education. Martin Dworkin (ed). New York: Teachers College Press.
- Skinner B.F. 1968. The technology of teaching. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
- Jackson, Philip W. 1992. Conceptions of curriculum and curriculum specialists. In Handbook of research on curriculum: a project of the American Educational Research Association. Philip W. Jackson (ed), New York: Macmillan, 3-40.
- Pinar, William F. et al 1995. Understanding curriculum: an introduction to the study of historical and contemporary curriculum discourses. New York: Peter Lang.